Will the Swiss Guarantee CHF 75,000 for Every Family?
In early June the Swiss will be called upon to make a historic decision. Switzerland is the first country worldwide to put the idea of an Unconditional Basic Income to a vote and the outcome of this referendum will set a strong precedent and establish a landmark in the evolution of this debate.
The Swiss public will have to approve or reject a change in the constitution that would allow for the introduction of an Unconditional Basic Income (UBI), or a preset, monthly minimum income to be paid out by the government to every adult and child in the country if their income falls below a specific threshold. Even though details of this proposal have been few and far between, the most commonly cited amount of this guaranteed income would be 2,500 Swiss Francs for adults and 625 francs for children. The architects of the proposal stress that this government-guaranteed payment, unlike the current benefit programs, will be entirely ‘no questions asked’, i.e., it will not be means-tested and will apply to every person legally living in Switzerland.
Currently, these are all the details that the Swiss have at their disposal to make their decision. No plan has so far been put forward to specify how such a proposal would be financed, whether an increase in income tax or VAT will have to be enforced, which specific existing welfare programs it would replace or how the glaringly obvious exploitation possibilities of such a plan would be avoided, without any kind of means test – or without ‘asking any questions’, according to one of the campaign’s catchphrases.
The main argument of the supporters of this initiative is that it would support the people that will, or already do, lose their jobs to automation and technological progress; a defensive move against ‘the rise of the robots’ as they put it. They also claim that such a measure will give people the opportunity to grow, to learn and to pursue skills or professional goals that are now rendered prohibitive by their current meaningless and mundane jobs, that they are forced into in order to simply pay their bills. ‘What would you do if your income were taken care of?’ asked the pro-UBI campaign in Geneva, with a poster that officially made it into the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest.
This post was published at Acting-Man on May 24, 2016.